Technological Developments at Leica Geosystems - Interview with Mark Concannon - 18/03/2015
Towards the end of last year when Leica celebrated its 50th year in the UK, GW had the opportunity of talking to Mark Concannon, Leica’s Director of EMEA. We quizzed him on handling data volumes, service, UAVs, training and future technology developments.
Geomatics World: Software has become ever more important over the last decade. Data volumes have accelerated with the arrival of laser scanning and high-resolution imaging. Surveyors often complain that the software seems to be playing catch-up with these high volume sensors. How has this affected R&D and technical support for Leica? Has the balance in terms of resources now switched from hardware to software?
Mark Concannon: The number of R&D engineers dedicated to software has significantly increased in recent years. This increase is to support the intelligence of core products to make field procedures ever more efficient, as well as to enhance workflows. Continued innovation requires significant R&D effort to be invested in both hardware and software development.
Some years ago, PC hardware was overwhelmed by the quantity of data collected with laser scanning, but today with inexpensive high-powered PCs processing of data is performed easily thanks also to smarter data-processing algorithms.
GW: Suppliers regard themselves as “solution providers”. But many surveyors adopt a “mix and match” approach by selecting independent software for use in processing sensor data. Do you see this as a problem or do you try to work with the grain of current practice?
MC: It is important to offer a complete solution, and we are proud of being able to deliver a complete solution of products, software and after-sales services. However, Leica Geosystems also understands that local software is required to provide the best fit for local requirements, and actively works with local software developers to integrate their software into the Leica Geosystems’ solution. Examples include integration of the HeXML data format for optimal dataflow, and integration of the EpcA SDK to fully integrate point-cloud processing into local software packages.
GW: Someone once said that the three most important things they look for in a total station are service, service and service. Do you agree?
MC: One hundred percent. We’ve added 20 service engineers since last year. We have to be like the car industry: we want the whole-life relationship with the client. We’re a capital sales company. We want to look after the client and make sure he is happy with the purchase. We want to make sure the software is up to date, the instrument is fully serviced and servicing is scheduled. One of the reasons we’ve taken on more people is to ensure excellent service and now we and our partners can offer a 48-hour turnaround. We are responding to need and I believe about 80% of our engineers’ time is already booked for this year.
We can sum up the relationship we enjoy with our customers in one word: partnership. And that is our commitment to all customers, a true partnership that includes a full circle of active customer care support and services around the globe, anytime and anywhere.
Other areas where we offer unique after-sales service is through the use of advanced planning systems that allow customers to view in real-time 24/7 the status of their products being serviced via the myWorld customer internet portal.
Our motto is “when it has to be right” and we apply it for ourselves and the companies that we acquire. An aspect is that our new products have to be ready when we launch them. If necessary we will delay launches to make sure that products are ready. We have recently delayed a product launch for six weeks for that very reason.
GW: While it’s difficult to crystal-ball gaze into the future when so much is dependent on economic prosperity, what technology developments would you expect or would you like to see over the next ten years?
MC: The release of the Nova MultiStation saw the integration of angular and distance measurement, imaging and precise 3D scanning with GNSS connectivity. We see integration of technologies as a continuing process.
Imaging will become significantly more important in the surveyor’s toolkit and you will be able to do more with imagery. We use imagery with the total station now and scanning will be far more imagery based. The key is how all this data can be managed into a deliverable that the client can use. We will be moving down the virtual reality road of data rich files.
Technological development will focus on improving customer workflows and hence productivity. Services delivered through the cloud will become increasingly important as more products become internet-enabled in the field. Cloud services include online support, data exchange and image Content as a Service (CaaS).
GW: Leica recently acquired a UAV supplier. Your current offering looks rather expensive against what is a very competitive market place where surveyors and others can relatively easily create their own “pick and mix” systems. Do you have plans to respond to this?
MC: Aibotix is a reliable high-end solution that we can accurately position in space and it can carry camera, laser scanner and hyperspectral sensors. It is expensive when compared to the do-it-yourself options, but we believe there is a market for professional grade UAVs that companies will want to run as part of a production workflow, backed up by our best-in-class support and service network. We see Aibotix as the future for this market.
World domination of the drone market is impossible for us and we are not interested in the consumer market. We see big opportunities in civil engineering and are already selling Aibots in Scandinavia where they are doing volume metrics for construction progress monitoring. But the market is still developing. For example, Easyjet is now using UAVs to inspect its aircraft.
GW: We often hear professional surveyors complaining that they face stiff competition from firms without qualified survey staff which have acquired advanced technology like laser scanners or GNSS. The practice of selling to inexperienced personnel can be self-defeating in terms of growing the market for these complex technologies. What do you do to educate users?
MC: You’ll never overcome the problem in the unregulated UK. In other countries, they only have qualified people working in cadastre systems. The UK is relatively unique. The professional bodies in the UK have tried hard to create standards but we’ll always have the issue of training because the simpler the equipment gets, the less skilled you need to be to utilise it, which is a selling feature in some cases. In the long-term, the quality of the deliverable given to the client from whoever does the work will dictate the next piece of work. I’m against work being given on a tender basis because you can never measure value. It’s about the perception of value. You can never get the same quality product from the four or five people who tender.
Many of our users today are not measurement professionals, but can still easily use our products. One example is the iCON field products, designed with a focus on graphical elements to ensure non-professionals can quickly learn and implement them for building and construction applications.
GW: One of your competitors has developed a topographic surveying system around multi-imaging sensors and GNSS to deliver photogrammetric data. Do you have any plans for a similar development?
MC: Combining imaging and positioning technologies is not new to Leica. For several years, imaging technology has been combined with total stations. Through partner software, it has always been possible to extract coordinates from overlapping images. With the next release of Leica Infinity office software, deriving coordinates from images will also be possible. In cases where positioning the total station requires GNSS, the SmartPole or SmartStation set-ups can be employed.
This article was published in Geomatics World March/April 2015Last updated: 23/07/2019